The Outcast

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The only bad thing about the new Cinemax thriller Outcast, is that it’s done so damn good that a lot of people won’t tune in to check it out because of preconceptions about the genre. Unlike a lot of other “horror” shows on the air, there are some truly creepy and sometimes downright scary moments in the new Robert Kirkman-produced drama. However, despite the demons and the exorcisms, Outcast is a detective story both meticulously written and precisely shot. It’s put together like a puzzle, one deliberate and exact piece at a time… Often hiding clues in plain sight (a huge I Want to Believe poster in one of the opening shots, but I’ll come back to that) to keep the viewer glued to the screen at any given time.

03-outcast.w529.h352Over the course of the first season (new episodes air Friday nights on Cinemax), Outcast tells the story of two men battling demons both internal and external in the sleepy town of Rome, West Virginia. The main character Kyle Barnes (played by Almost Famous‘ Patrick Fugit) grew up in Rome, raised by a single mother who succumbed to a violent and abusive possession when he was younger. Flashbacks show her stalking him through the house like an animal, from the shadows, knocking him around and dragging him by his hair into the pantry closet Carrie-style. Years later, Kyle has moved into his mother’s old house after a domestic violence incident involving his wife and daughter. Here he meets up with Reverend Anderson, an older and somewhat wiser man, who tells him he has been fighting these “demons” for years. He is the kind of preacher that believes he is one of God’s holy warriors, and who has a Friday night poker game every week with the mayor, the sheriff, and the fire chief. Like Anderson, Outcast holds its cards close to its chest the entire game. From the first episode, there is very little exposition or set up, instead the writers keep the focus on the characters themselves as things happen around them.

Outcast doesn’t rely on gimmicks, special effects, or flashy camera work like so many others do these days to stand out from the pack. Instead it is expertly crafted in a minimalist style, dolling out scraps of info here and bits of clues there. It’s part detective noir, part character-driven horror/thriller, Outcast reminds me of a scarier version of Netflix’s Bloodline or HBO’s The Leftovers, operating on many levels at the same time.

kyle-preacherMost shows these days spend an inordinate amount of time making sure the audience is following along. Outcast correctly assumes that most people can follow a plot without laying things out every step of the way… And it works extremely well in this case. The writers hook us in the first episode with a possession case that goes right for the gut- (SLIGHT SPOILER) – a young boy named Joshua nearly chews his finger off absentmindedly under the influence of some evil entity. When the Reverend and Kyle finally arrive to try and help the boy, the demon recognizes Barnes, calling him the Outcast and asking about his mother (who has been in a vegetative state for decades). Along the way, Kyle is bitten and some of his blood seeps into the boy’s mouth, causing him to convulsive and react violently, eventually spewing forth some kind of swirling black oil demon that dissipates into the air.

It sets up a very compelling mystery right from the beginning… What exactly is going on in Rome, and why are so many people showing signs of demonic possession? And what the hell is “the Merge”? Some kind of Demon Apocalypse?

Outcast-TV-show-on-Cinemac-590x345While the Reverend and Kyle Barnes play Demonic Hardy Boys, Kyle’s adopted sister Megan struggles to balance family life with an ever-increasing level of insanity in town. The sheriff follows a different set of clues following an arson that may or may not be connected to the rest of the town’s goings-on. Meanwhile a mysterious stranger shows up in Rome who seems to know a little more about the Merge than he might be letting on. All of these side-plots and interconnected story lines weave seamlessly through one another at the hands of shrewd and talented writers who have so far been able to ratchet up the suspense with every new episode.

As things near a boiling point this Friday night, Kyle and the Reverend must keep their eyes on the goal as distractions come at them from every angle. “The nameless, the numberless” descend on Rome for the Merge, and the stakes have never been higher for our two heroes. As they piece together more of the mystery surrounding the demons in their midst, the true nature of the intruders themselves comes into question. Are they really Satan’s minions, or are they perhaps invaders from some other place? (Back to the I Want to Believe poster in the opening shots of the show…)

If you haven’t check out Outcast for one reason or another, it’s not too late. All episodes are available on Cinemax’s streaming app, and it looks like iTunes has the first few as well. As usual, there are less upstanding ways to watch, only a few short Google searches away. Give it a shot, if you are a fan of good drama and like a few thrills, you won’t be sorry. I’ve already re-watched the first episodes and realized how many things I missed the first time because I didn’t have the other puzzle pieces that come later. Cinemax liked it so much they ordered a second season before the first episode even aired… I agree wholeheartedly.

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The Walking Dead: the Joy of Negan

 

As a culture, we love our bad guys.

We claim to be hero-worshippers who cheer when the good guys beat all odds… But the awful truth is we can’t wait to see what the bad guy is going to do first. We get off on both the thrill of fantastical violence, and the thought that it “wasn’t us.” We love to see adversary overcome, but first we want to see the adversary. Whether they’re diabolical, scary, terrorizing, or just plain evil, we love our villains just as much as we love the heroes we call on to vanquish them.

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This Sunday night, on AMC’s mega-hit show The Walking Dead, one of fiction’s best bad guys will make his screen debut… and to quote the late, great Ben Kenobi, “I feel a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror, and were suddenly silenced…” I fear something terrible is about to happen.

I have no idea how they are going to get away with this, but I’m keeping an open mind.

Since the beginning of the show, there has always been some terrible threat just around the next corner. Whether it’s the flesh-eating hordes of the undead that walk the Earth, or the savages that have been made of the men who once called this place home… A staple of The Walking Dead has always been death. As sheriff Rick Grimes and family struggle to survive in an insane world, multiple members of the main cast and countless red shirts have lost their lives since they first left Atlanta. From Andrea’s sister Amy to Carol’s daughter Sophia, Lori, Dale, even Andrea… One by one, the “core group” has dropped away over the years. Almost no one is safe in The Walking Dead.

So far, the show has done a great job of setting up Negan’s arrival. They’ve put our heroes in a particularly vulnerable position thinking that they’ve got it all figured out. I’ll tell you this right now, if you’re not prepared for a core-group member to die this Sunday, you’ve got about a day to let it sink in.

In the books, the Alexandrians meet the Hilltoppers much like they do in the show, via a bearded mystery ninja named Jesus. They agree to take care of Negan and the Saviors, who have been running a local protection racket with the communities around Washington D.C. because they are who they are. Apparently not many other groups have had the same experiences and self-training that our heroes have, and in order to secure enough food to survive, Rick agrees to do what they do best because confrontation is not something they’ve ever had a problem with. Plus, life in the new world is tough enough with flesh-eating zombies everywhere… Rick is too much of a good ol boy sheriff to let these assholes go on exploiting everyone else.

t8JuQKBAs a Walking Dead comic reader, hindsight is 20/20, and it’s their arrogance that blinds them to what they can’t see coming. There was no “midnight raid” on the savior outpost in the books, but again, the build up to the fall is what this has all been about. Our team of murdering heroes have crossed over into the “we don’t take chances” realm… And they are about to get a wake up call regarding their REAL position in the new world.

So what happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object? In the books it was a blood-soaked multi-issue arc called All Out War… If that gives you a clue.

This Sunday night is the main event as far as The Walking Dead goes. All of this misery, torment, and death has led us on a bloody road to this moment. I don’t know WHO is going to die… But I have my suspicions. And know this: you might as well call in sick for Monday now. It’s going to get REAL nasty, and I mean… Nasty… As in, bring a bucket and the Kleenex, it’s going to be a hell of a ride.

You see, as bad as the Governor was, and as bad as the other Human Bad Guys our heroes have dealt with were, Negan is something else. Negan is insanity, brilliance, and cruelty wrapped in a generous code of ethics and an endearing flair of colorful language.

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Actor Jeffrey Dean Morgan (The Watchmen, The Salvation) is set to bring Negan to life on the small screen, and while the AMC executives are cringing, those of us who get physically ill when crazy shit goes down on Sunday nights are about to have the ride of our lives. In the books, Negan’s arrival is like a nuclear bomb going off, destroying everything we thought we had known about how comics work as stories and as character-driven pieces. I will always remember reading that book, feeling my hands sweat and my pulse pound, feeling my jaw hit the floor as tears welled in my eyes.

Even though I have STRONG suspicions that the show is going to switch up the batting order, all I will say is that no one should ever go out like that. See you Monday morning for the reactions. The season 6 finale of The Walking Dead airs this Sunday night on AMC.

 

 

The Walking Dead is Back With a Bang For Season 5

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Zombies haven’t always terrified me. In the sense that being bitten to death by disgusting, smelly, dead things while having my intestines pulled out through my body cavity, scary… It’s not like a zombie is really that threatening, after all. They shuffle, they move slowly, and they can’t out think you. But I have always considered zombies scary, plural, as in a you’re never safe, no matter how many you kill, how many walls you put up, or how far you run. You’re surrounded at all times by a shifting, shapeless horde of teeth, just waiting to bite and rip. IMG_0436The way they just pop up everywhere, overwhelming everything, and that horrifying sound that they make!!

Now that’s scary.

When I was younger and obsessed with Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, I often thought of the cultural satire that was woven into the story line. How the zombies come back to the mall, get caught on escalators, stuck in fountains. It all had this air of camp. When a zombie tore into another character you cheered, it was about the awesome special effects not the walking corpses. Back before zombies were a cultural phenomenon, when they were still used as symbols for our consumer culture. Back before Robert Kirkman wrote a little comic called The Walking Dead… and LONG before the great Frank Darabont had the guts to turn that book into one of the best shows on television.

There isn’t much room for camp on The Walking Dead, however. Much to its credit, the show chooses to follow human reactions to a zombie apocalypse instead of just staging the zombie apocalypse as a disaster-piece.

IMG_0414Tonight’s season five premier proved to us that this show is a balls-out, neck-biting, suspense-filled, thrill-ride with cannibalistic humanoids and all. It is a show at the top of its game, and running on all cylinders. I was literally on the edge of the couch the entire 40+ minutes.

I’m assuming that no spoiler tag is needed?

Season four ended with small-town-sheriff-turned-Zombie-apocalypse-savior-of-mankind Rick Grimes finally being reunited with the rest of the group from the prison. Yes, it was while trapped in a train car by cannibals parading as sanctuary, but that’s not the REAL point. As we see so well in the season five opener. There’s no sitting around and lamenting, there’s no crying in the corner like the original Terminus-ites do in the flashbacks that bookend the episode. There’s only the loose nail in the floorboard, or the crumbling-but-sharp wood in the walls… Season five starts with our group going all Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, and prepping to fight their way out of the fix they’re in while snipets of dialogue show how they all catch each other up on what’s happened to them since the Governor brought a tank to a sword fight. As the guards come to take them, Rick tells the group to steady themselves.

IMG_0420“You all know what to do… Go for the eyes first, then their throats…”

No truer words were ever spoken.

Too bad the Termites (sounds better, right?) “flip the script,” so Eugene says, and drop a gas grenade in through the ceiling. Cut to the scariest room ever filmed: the slaughterhouse at Terminus. As Rick is dragged through the doors he sees a body on a table being broken down but two men in coveralls, and three big bins marked BURN, FEED, WASH. Through the center of the room there’s a long, shiny metal trough that Rick, Bob, Glen, and Daryl are lined up in front of. This gleaming, obviously polished trough that sits there like a cold, hard truth. This trough is where our survivors’ lives will drain out in a single stroke. Lined up, coincidentally, next to four random red-shirts all Star Trek style, the butchers start on the other end of the trough from Rick. Just as the horror begins, we get a glimpse of the blonde guy on the end, and if it isn’t the hippie kid from last season (played by none other than The Penguin on FOX’s new drama Gotham)! Remember when Rick kicked Carol out of the group and they ran into those kids hiding in the house? We only ever got to see what happened to her. (it looks like things didn’t fare too well for him either). One at a time smack the hog-tied survivors in the back of the head with a baseball bat, then slit their throats, and let them drain into the trough.

You can almost see the steam coming from the blood as it hits the cold metal. It’s a disturbing scene.

IMG_0426Before long, Bob tries to talk an uncaring Garreth, the leader of the Termites, into sparing them. He quickly talks about the Cure and Eugene and starting the world over… But he’s not remembering who he’s talking to. This is a man who has crossed a line in his mind that he can’t come back from. In a show all about skirting the line and coming back from it, we know when Garreth says, “Can’t go back, Bob…” and slides the gag back on, that appeals will not be considered. Soon we learn that this smack-and-slice show is all for Rick’s benefit. To scare him into telling Garreth what was in the big bag they buried in the woods before coming to Terminus.

IMG_0432Rick never breaks his stare. Like a vicious animal that has locked onto its prey, Rick is only thinking one thing: “The sharp piece of train car in my hand isn’t sawing this zip-tie fast enough.” But when Garreth begins to take Bob’s eye out, Rick tells him. “Guns. AK-47, .44 Magnum, automatic weapons, night scope… There’s a compound bow and a machete with a red handle. That’s what I’m going to use to kill you.”

And we know that Rick will get to do just that because Garreth only chuckles at him smugly, like a true hipster-turned-cannibal-leader, Garreth is too detached to feel the fear he should while staring into those eyes. Hell, I feel it, and I know it’s just a tv show. (keep telling yourself, it’s only a tv show, it’s only a tv show)

IMG_0429When gunfire erupts, there is a smile behind Rick’s murderous eyes when he hears it. We already know who and what it is, there’s only one group of survivors outside the gates. It’s Carol, of course, come seeking both her friends and redemption. Like a total boss she deftly maneuvers into the horde of walkers all Old School, covered in zombie Guts. (Season one shout out!) Using the distraction, Rick frees himself and runs through the two butchers like a hot train-car piece through butter, and it’s ON.

I almost didn’t think Carol was going to find the others… The way the episode tracks her progress through discovering what Terminus is for herself the same way the survivors did last episode… But the end of this roller-coaster ride is a deftly constructed emotional climax. I had tears falling pretty freely by the time Daryl sees her for the first time, running and taking her up in his arms… And then when Rick and Carl see Judith… Oh man, just thinking about it gets me a little misty. I applaud the show for keeping Judith alive long after she’d perished in the comic… It was a wise choice, and one that provides ample opportunity for the show going forward.Lauren-Cohan-in-The-Walking-Dead-Season-5

I don’t know about you, but I’d like to see at LEAST another five seasons, and somewhere in there we need some time-jumps. I still think the ultimate way to end the series is to show a flash-forward of a time in the future where the world looks more like The Last of Us. Where nature has reclaimed the Earth and while the Walkers are still out there, really only in scattered hordes that are easily tracked or diverted. I see a network of communities, thriving, starting the world over, and I see the finale being all about having Judith’s wedding. Where we see Rick, while I’m sure crippled in some way (ahem, hand… kneecap), he frets about things like not knowing how to dance with his daughter with a busted old zombie-killing knee. A whole episode where no one gets their neck ripped out or cut up by cannibals… Where our survivors get to once again taste that normal life… And it will be oh so sweet because of everything we’ve gone through with them.

IMG_0442But I digress… There is literally too much going on in this episode to cover in one post, from Eugene’s disclosure about what sounds like an actual plan (as opposed to the books), to Tyrese’s extremely troubling conversation with a Termite who threatens Baby Judith, to the Terminus flashbacks where we see how a group of people trying to be human chose to be butchers instead of cattle… But most importantly is the stinger at the end, and its troubling implications. Just as the credits roll on one of the best episodes yet, we see a masked stranger walking the tracks our group just finally left toward the NO Sanctuary sign Rick left behind… The camera tightens in and the mask comes off, and as our brains quickly think back, “No, Shane’s twice dead, Dale is too, Hershel’s decapitated, Amy’s shot, Andrea’s gone, Lori’s dead, and now Nelson Van Alden and Chalky White?!!” (oh crap, wrong recap, sorry…)

IMG_0445But no, it’s a very mean-looking Morgan. The man from the beginning of the show, who Rick promised to radio every day and come back to find… Who we last saw shit-house-rat crazy and blaming Rick for his son’s death. While he seemed to have gotten over it and accepted his part, the look on Morgan’s face and the strange tree-carving Hobo-code symbols he’s following through the woods…? What are they? Who carved them there? They look fresh… And they don’t seem to be the markers Daryl left where they buried the big bag o’ guns… I’m curious, and while the episode’s plot and Morgan’s appearance seem a bit contrived, I remember that this is a juicy zombie show, and I should let certain plot devices just lay as they are.

Can I say, that I was VERY happy to see Walkers playing such a pivotal part in tonight’s episode? It seemed at times that they were just window dressing last season, only popping up at the right time to chomp. That explosion was KILLER.

The Walking Dead is back. Steady yourself. It think it’s going to get worse before it gets… Well, even worse.

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Sometimes writers are just too clever…